Peer Review Congress 2022

September 11, 2022

Chicago, United States

Assessment of Gender Balance in the Editorial Activities of a Researcher-Led Journal


diversity and inclusion

peer review


Objective Editorial decision-making is a fundamental element of the scientific enterprise, with critical implications for career advancement. Despite repeated calls for making deliberate efforts to incorporate gender diversity into editorial board structures, gender disproportions remain pervasive.1,2 Gender parity in the contributions to editorial decisions at various stages of the publication process was examined, based on analytics collected by the biomedical researcher–led journal eLife.

Design Data accumulated by eLife’s platform from 2017 to 2019 were organized into 2 data sets. The reviewing editor (RE) data set included anonymous information on the engagement of individual REs (n = 1201) in the editorial process, with a binary gender assigned based on the editor’s name and gender expression. REs were consulted by senior editors at the initial assessment stage, and an RE was chosen to handle the full review process for the selected manuscripts. The manuscript data set included the outcome of submitted manuscripts (n = 24,056) in each submission stage, the assigned gender of the REs suggested by the authors, the assigned gender of the handling RE, and the assigned gender of the appointed senior editor. Owing to nonnormal distributions in the data, 2-tailed nonparametric tests were used, including (1) binomial tests and N − 1 χ2 proportion comparison tests, (2) contingency table analysis, (3) a permutation-based Welch independent t test, and (4) equivalent bayesian analyses when significance was close to P < .05.

Results Despite efforts to increase women representation, the board of REs was predominantly male (833 69.4%). Authors suggested fewer women as REs, even after correcting for men overrepresentation (29.08% women vs 30.6% men; χ21 = 11.65; P = .001; Cohen h = 0.90). Although women editors were proportionally involved in the initial manuscript assessment (mean SD number of assessment requests per month, 2.40 1.44 women REs vs 2.41 1.51 men REs; t809.7 = 0.11; P = .92), they were underengaged in the full review process (mean SD number of full submissions per month, 0.40 0.32 women REs vs 0.44 0.37 men REs; t869.8 = 2.22; P = .03; Hedges g = 0.13). Gender homophily in manuscript assignment was found, such that senior editors overengaged same-gender REs (χ21 = 224.55; P < .001; contingency coefficient of 0.186) (Figure 28). This tendency was stronger in more gender-balanced scientific disciplines (eg, in developmental biology, with 56.9% of manuscripts handled by men REs; r = −0.47; P = .05; Bayes factor10 = 1.77). Conclusions Together, the findings confirm that gender disparities exist along the editorial process and suggest that merely increasing the proportion of women members might not be sufficient to eliminate this bias.


  1. Helmer M, Schottdorf M, Neef A, Battaglia D. Gender bias in scholarly peer review. eLife. 2017;6:e21718. doi:10.7554/ eLife.21718
  2. Palser ER, Lazerwitz M, Fotopoulou A. Gender and geographical disparity in editorial boards of journals in psychology and neuroscience. Nat Neurosci. 2022;25(3):272-
  3. Medline:35190729 doi:10.1038/s41593-022-01012-w

Conflict of Interest Disclosures Tamar R. Makin is a senior editor for eLife. Maria J. Guerreiro is part of the executive staff team of eLife.

Funding/Support Tal Seidel Malkinsonwas funded by Agence Nationale de la Recherche grant ANR-16-CE37-0005; Tamar R. Makin was funded by Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowship grant 215575/Z/19/Z and ERC Starting Grant 715022 EmbodiedTech.

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